ASSURE Partner, UVM Offer FEMA-funded Drone Training Program

Fifteen first responders and emergency managers participated in a two-day UAS workshop hosted by the University of Vermont Spatial Analysis Lab on August 10 and 11. 

When an emergency happens in Vermont, whether it be a car accident or a natural disaster, there are a lot of questions that need to get answered as quickly as possible. Vermont first responders arrive on the scene and assess rapidly before taking action, but when the situation is in a hard-to-reach location, or an unprecedented disaster has occurred, it can be difficult to act fast. Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS or drones) are enhancing the way first responders and emergency personnel assess and react to emergencies and extreme weather events. 

A FEMA-funded program hosted by the UVM Spatial Analysis Lab brought drone training to fifteen emergency-response roles across Vermont this week. The mix of public safety, firefighting, emergency management, search and rescue, and agriculture and natural resource personnel spent two days learning about UAS technology, flying drones on campus, and assessing drone-gathered data in the lab.  

“This training session will give emergency managers and first responders like me the ability to employ drone technology to address critical issues in emergency response,” said Lee Krohn, volunteer firefighter and town manager of Shelburne. “From responding to structure fires to search and rescue operations, drones provide a means by which to improve response and recovery efforts. I am excited to learn skills that help me, and my fellow first responders reduce risk and be more effective in our jobs. UVM has been a leader in drone technology for the past decade. I am glad to be learning from this experienced team.”

The program received critical support from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and could take place at UVM because of the institution’s ASSURE Core Member status. ASSURE is the FAA’s Center of Excellence for UAS Research and is the lead on the FEMA first responder training project. 

“Technology is playing an increasingly important role in disaster response and recovery. I was pleased to support funding that will bolster the work of the University of Vermont, which is leading the way in the Northeast, in partnership with Vermont Technical College, to support the FAA and ASSURE. This is critical research and development that will help Vermont’s first responders to save lives, and give Vermont businesses access to cutting-edge drone technology,” said Leahy.

This workshop will serve as a model for similar FEMA-funded trainings that will be implemented across the country by ASSURE. The multi-day workshop concluded with a luncheon for the trainees, state agency partners, state leadership, FEMA personnel, UVM leadership, and ASSURE leadership to celebrate the collaborative effort.  

“ASSURE is pleased to announce the unanimous decision of its Core Universities to promote UVM from an Affiliate to a Core Member in the FAA’s Center of Excellence for Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS),” said Stephen “Lux” Luxion, executive director of ASSURE. “The expertise demonstrated by UVM over the past few years along with the strong Congressional support from Senator Leahy and his staff have greatly benefited ASSURE, the FAA, FEMA, and other agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. Vermont’s efforts will ensure more coordinated and efficient approaches to the integration of uncrewed aircraft in emergencies. Enabling access to the critical information this transformational technology provides will ultimately save lives and reduce damage to property and infrastructure.” 

“Our role as a public institution is to serve as a partner to and resource for the state of Vermont,” said UVM Vice President for Research Kirk Dombrowski. “We are proud to work alongside first responder personnel and value the generous support of Senator Leahy, whose recognition of the importance of advanced emergency response procedures made this program possible. We are eager to continue leveraging our innovative Spatial Analysis Lab to make state-of-the-art technology accessible to our Vermont partners.”   

The UVM Spatial Analysis Lab is housed in the university’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. The lab has grown substantially in recent years—instructing and employing nearly 40 students and staff. Thanks to the Spatial Analysis Lab’s demonstrated excellence in UAS research within and beyond Vermont, UVM achieved ASSURE Core Member status in fall 2021.   


(Attached are photos you are free to use to illustrate this story. Photos courtesy of UVM.)

About the University of Vermont

Since 1791, the University of Vermont has worked to move humankind forward. UVM’s strengths align with the most pressing needs of our time: the health of our societies and the health of our environment. Our size—large enough to offer a breadth of ideas, resources, and opportunities, yet intimate enough to enable close faculty-student mentorship across all levels of study—allows us to pursue these interconnected issues through cross-disciplinary research and collaboration. Providing an unparalleled educational experience for our students, and ensuring their success, are at the core of what we do. As one of the nation’s first land grant universities, UVM advances Vermont and the broader society through the discovery and application of new knowledge.

“UVM” is an abbreviation of the Latin Universitas Viridis Montis (in English, University of the Green Mountains).


The Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence (ASSURE) consists of 25 of the world’s leading research institutions and more than 100 leading industry/government partners. ASSURE members are core to three FAA UAS test sites, lead four FAA research centers, have seven airfields and a fleet of 340 UAS – 24 more than the USAF. ASSURE’s goal is to provide the FAA with the research it needs to efficiently integrate UAS into our National Airspace System.

By Alayna Howard

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